You have to know that somewhere up there, Boyd Hill Sr.
is smiling. For the nature trail and park that bears his name
and was the apple of his eye, is the natural beauty he intended.
Its 541 acres in south St. Petersburg include 216 acres of
parkland with six miles of trails, boardwalks and bicycle paths,
streams and five ecosystems. Spreading oaks shade its grounds,
and lush ferns line its streams. Alligators can be seen on the
marshy shores of Lake Maggiore,
and the Pinellas Pioneer Settlement has been transported and
assembled on the west 280 acres opening on to 31st Street S.
Who was Boyd Hill for whom our most treasured park was named?
Boyd Hill was a natural at the St. Petersburg Parks Department,
where he started working in 1936, said his son Boyd Hill Jr.,
a history professor at the University of Colorado.
The elder Hill was born in 1901 in Georgia and met the future
Mrs. Hill while they attended college at the Rabun Gap-Nacoochee
School in Georgia, the son said.
Hill Sr. and his wife, Minnie, came to Florida in 1925, when
he worked on the construction of Bok Tower in Lake Wales. He
subsequently moved to Dunedin, where he worked as a landscape
architect and where Boyd Jr. was born. The St. Petersburg Parks
Department heard about his expertise and hired him. One of Hill's
first jobs, according to his son, was supervising the construction
of local ball fields.
Hill, 59, remembers that with pleasure and has autographed
baseballs from many business/pleasure trips father and son took.
During World War II little was done at local parks except
maintenance because most were trampled daily by marching troops
stationed in St. Petersburg. But after the war, Hill got right
to work, his son said. The waterfront parks were replanted and
restored, and Pasadena Country Club was spruced up and turned
into a city golf club.
"He also did some landscaping at the Coast Guard base,"
the younger Hill said.
All this time, in south St. Petersburg, was a jewel of a park
dubbed "This Quiet Corner" by researcher and author
Elizabeth Verbeck in her booklet by the same name. She said the
city was looking at the property as early as 1925, when Lake
Maggiore was called Salt Lake. The lake emptied into Tampa Bay
through Salt Creek, and residents in the area complained about
the odor at low tide. A dam was built in 1940, allowing freshwater
springs to fill the lake and making way for the extension of
M.L. King (Ninth) Street S to Pinellas Point, Mrs. Verbeck has
Additional land around the lake was acquired in 1943 and 1945,
and construction of the Nature Trail began in 1947 with $125,000
city funds. It was Boyd Hill who supervised the design, growth
and planting of the park.
Hill was assistant superintendent of parks when Superintendent
A.M. Beers died in 1954. Hill was promoted to parks superintendent
and put his heart into it.
"And his favorite of all the parks was the Nature Trail,"
Hill said , remembering a summer spent raking hyacinths out of
Boyd Hill died just three years later in 1957. "He died
late at night with plans for the park on his desk," his
Hill was an excellent cook who, as an assistant Boy Scout
leader, loved to take members of Troop 13 camping with leader
Gene Lanning. He particularly liked outdoor cooking, his son
said. "We used to go camping once a month, and he was really
good at barbecuing chicken," he said.
"He was a quiet, Gary Cooper type . He was respected
by the men who worked for him." And he was dedicated to
keeping the Nature Trail as natural as possible. His wishes have
been respected. The park was renamed Boyd Hill Nature Trail in
Since then, many improvements and additions have been made,
the latest being the assembling and building of the Pinellas
Pioneer Settlement at 2900 31st St. S. A Pinellas Rendezvous
this past weekend re-enacted lives and battles of early settlers.
The Nature Park Center and Nature Trail sponsor a continuing
series of nature walks, bird walks, lectures, photography walks
and craft classes.
And the park is thriving. Candy Trappman, a park specialist
who has been at Boyd Hill since 1980, said she sees fox squirrels,
gophers, red and grey foxes, alligators, turtles and snakes,
including the endangered indigo and numerous migratory birds.
"And the bald eagles are nesting and have a baby. That will
make four eagles in the park, including their half grown one
from last year."
Granted, Lake Maggiore (pronounced Ma-JOH-ry in Italy, Ma-GOR-ry
in St. Petersburg) the centerpiece of the park and trail, is
not what it used to be.
"People still catch fish from the lake," Mrs. Trappman
said, "and a study last year showed there was an incredible
amount of fish in it, so it would support alligators."
But, she says, "I have
watched the alligator population dwindle so." Storm water
runoff has rendered the lake eutrophic, which means it has a
high concentration of nutrients from fertilizers and other chemicals.
The pollution is thought to be killing the fish and, therefore,
the alligators that feed on them.
Last summer's heavy spraying during the encephalitis scare
also added to problems in the lake and killed the mosquito larvae
the fish eat, Mrs. Trappman said. In addition, the drought has
lowered the lake's water level.
Consultants called in by the city have completed a study on
the lake but have no results or recommendations yet, Mrs. Trappman
"But I saw a 7-footer (alligator) yesterday, so we may
have another nest this year," she said. "I feel so
lucky to work here."